Tasmanian poker machine losses surge to almost $600,000 per day

Over $137 million lost over the past year
 September 28, 2020
Published:  September 28, 2020
The Federal Group's Elwick Hotel in Glenorchy. Image: Mark Horstman

New government data reveal losses on Tasmanian poker machines were almost $600,000 per day in August, significantly higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data added to the Tasmanian Department of Treasury and Finance website on Friday September 25 show that gamblers’ losses during August were more than $18.5 million.

Losses on poker machines are now almost 30 per cent higher than the average for the six months before COVID-19 restrictions were introduced in March 2020.

The surge has occurred while the state’s borders have been closed to tourists, indicating the losses are almost entirely from residents.

Over $137 million has been lost on poker machines in the state over the last year

Meg Webb, the independent Legislative Council member for Nelson, said the increase may be due to a combination of increased support payments and community stress.

“We know that under normal circumstances about half the money flowing into pokies is from people who have a gambling problem,” she said.

“With superannuation lump sums and increased Centrelink payments such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker in people’s pockets, those with a pokies gambling problem may be contributing much more than half the increased losses.”

The Gutwein Government suggested the increase may be the result of border closures and COVID-19 restrictions reducing “the range of alternative recreational activities available, which may result in expenditure being diverted to gaming activities”.

“Nationally, all jurisdictions have experienced higher player expenditure since venues reopened but the level of increase year-on-year is trending down,” a spokesperson said.

Losses surge after COVID-19 shutdown

Despite the shutdown of poker machine venues between March 23, 2020 and June 26, 2020, more than $137 million has been lost on poker machines in the state over the past year.

Since gambling venues reopened in late June, total losses on the more than 3500 poker machines has been $40.6 million. It includes $19.4 million lost in July.

“We have seen this big increase in losses as predicted, but where is the acknowledgement from government of the harm that is occurring as a result?” Ms Webb asked.

“Where was the extra funding or targeted programs aimed at problem gamblers during the shutdown or after the venues re-opened? Where are the COVID-specific public education campaigns on the risk of gambling harms, like we’ve seen around alcohol and other drugs?”

The government spokesperson did not respond when asked whether the state government had increased funding for gambling harm minimisation campaigns since the June 26 re-opening of venues.

The latest data reveal that in the past two months more than $15.1 million has been lost on the 1185 poker machines in the Federal Group’s casinos in Launceston and Hobart.

The Vantage Group, a Federal Group subsidiary, also owns 12 hotels around the state that combined have a further 360 poker machines.

The Gutwein Government is due to introduce a bill later this year intended to end the Federal Group’s legislated monopoly on poker machines in the state.

Its proposed changes are nearly identical to those proposed by Federal Group and the hospitality industry before the 2018 state election. The Federal Group agreed to support an end to its legislated monopoly on poker machines on the proviso it obtains a reduced tax rate, including on poker machines in its casinos. The government adopted most of the company’s proposals but deferred its decision on the casino machine tax rate.

In 2019-20, Federal Group paid almost $14.3 million in tax  on its two casinos.

The company strongly opposed Labor and Greens’ plans before the 2018 state election  to restrict the operation of poker machines in the state to the two casinos.

The Federal Group was a major donor to the Tasmanian branch of the Liberal Party, contributing $50,000 in 2017-18 financial year. The Tasmanian Hospitality Association, which represents the owners of pubs and clubs, contributed a further $269,750 to the party.

Bob Burton is a Hobart-based author, researcher, editor and freelance journalist. He is the Editor of CoalWire, a weekly bulletin on global coal industry developments for the US-based non-profit group Global Energy Monitor. His freelance journalism has been published in a wide range of news outlets from the British Medical Journal to the US-based PR Watch.

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